The United States looks set to withdraw a record number of books from the country’s schools and libraries this year as the country’s culture wars put increasing pressure on children, educators and publishers.
New estimates from the American Library Association and PEN America, which advocate for literary freedom, show that parents, advocacy groups and politicians have recently vigorously withdrawn publications they say are inappropriate for young readers.
In the latest spat this week, writers including Art Spiegelman, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman denounced Missouri’s ban on disseminating ” “Overzealous” laws for works harmful to minors. They say the law has led to the withdrawal of books about Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, as well as graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare, the Bible and the Gettysburg Address.
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, told the Financial Times: “We’ve seen a huge increase in requests to censor books. It just hasn’t abated. We expect to break this year. record. We think it’s because elected officials think it’s a political wedge issue, so we’re going to continue to see it.”
Parents who had previously spoken out alone are now running for school boards and urging a ban, while Republican politicians in some states have seized on a divisive “wedge” issue by passing legislation that would separate them from Democrats.
A Florida law and legal action in Virginia seek to prevent the distribution of sex-related books to children, while a Texas bill would require publishers to include age-appropriate ratings in their titles.
The growing list of books often targets alleged sexual content.But titles pre-emptively withdrawn for review include memoirs of personal experiences with racism by black children and religious minorities, and even Spiegelman’s classic tale mouse Documenting his family’s experiences under Nazism.
During 2021, the ALA said it tracked 729 efforts to remove nearly 1,600 titles, most of them in the final months of the year. It has identified 800 actions covering 1,651 titles for 2022 – more than double the annual level before the coronavirus pandemic.
PEN said more than 100 books were banned in one school district in Texas this week alone, and another 100 in South Carolina. “We continue to see a number of ongoing book bans and censorship tactics become more aggressive,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of its free speech and education program.
The Association of American Publishers, an industry body that joined the Coalition to Resist Crackdown, said: “Parent input and community standards have always played an important role in developing local educational practices, but the Supreme Court has made clear that these practices must comply with the First Amendment, The rights of other students shall not be violated.”
Jeff Trexler, interim director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, compared the current period to the crackdown on comic shops in the 1950s and said the recent escalation reflected increased scrutiny by parents of their children’s reading habits during the lockdown. Rigorous, and increasingly shared among different activists on social media.
“Since Covid, it’s become a mass movement. We’re reliving an old battle. With graphic novels, parents find out they don’t like and don’t think they’re helpful in teaching reading.”
However, Tiffany Justice of Moms for Liberty, an advocacy group founded last year, said: “This is not about banning books. This is a false narrative created by the progressive far left as they lose control of our schools for the past 40 years. It’s about curating children’s books There are certain things that libraries don’t contain. It’s called being a responsible adult.”
She dismissed reports of “lie” of some of the books targeted for removal, and emphasized her organization’s focus on fighting children’s exposure to “sexually explicit content” and “toxic critical racial theories.”
“Marxist ideology has taken over American education,” she said.
Amir Soltani, author of graphic novels Zahra’s Paradise On the recalled persecution of young Iranian protesters in Missouri, he said: “Who watches the guards? Are we going to replace librarians with mullahs?”